Monday, 8 October 2012

Creating the Human Cloud

As a haggard old former techie nursing the scars of years in the DR trenches, I’m very excited by the opportunities that well implemented cloud computing can bring to BCM.  It’s easy to be an evangelist for a technology that, when done right, can reduce at a stroke so many of the challenges we have faced for years.
Just think of it: with cloud computing we can have our recovery testing done on live systems, with live traffic, with no data loss nor downtime and a far reduced risk footprint.  We can know that software and patch versions are always consistent between data centres; our work area recovery seats will require only a browser and a secure network to access the exact same interface users have in their regular office; and best of all, we will have happy stakeholders.  Sorry, I mean happy ‘interested persons’, safe in the knowledge that the IT systems they rely on will be there when they need them.  It is true indeed that a well implemented cloud infrastructure can be a tremendous benefit to BCM.
Alan Jacobs CBCI
But can the lessons from cloud be applied to other areas of BCM?  Can our human assets use the same principles of scalability, automation, consistency and flexibility? I think they can; and I don’t think we need to invent anything new to do it.  I think we just need to use the tools we already have to bring about another step forward in capability.
Let’s look at a couple of the characteristics of cloud computing, scalability and flexibility, and see how we could recreate them in our ‘people’ plans.  
First there’s scalability.  Cloud providers deliver this by having a pool of IT resources that can be turned easily from one task to another depending on the requirement at any given time.  They have to carefully manage their estate to make sure they deliver this scalability when it’s needed without having expensive kit standing idle for long periods of time.  Sadly none of us can afford a pool of human resource to wait for assignments but in large organisations we can be more flexible about how we allocate the time of those we have.  We can create a culture of knowledge sharing; of working practices based on collaboration, without silos or ivory towers; we can offer secondments and temporary assignments to our staff in different areas within our business to share skills.  We can create the expectation that at peak times we might all be required to help out in one area or another.  We can think like farmers do during the harvest; turning all available hands to whatever task we need, when we need it.  Most people love a challenge and being asked to help in a different area of the business makes people feel part of something larger.  It’s exciting and interesting for our teams and it breeds a culture of flexibility and a sense of a shared goal.  The added benefit is that when there is a crisis we already have a pool of experienced and adaptable people willing to lend a hand.
Now how about recoverability?  Cloud providers create IT infrastructures that synchronise constantly to off-site storage and are moved readily and automatically when a failure is detected.  This is a little trickier to do with people but the first step is to make them mobile and responsive.  Encourage a home working capability.  Even if you don’t want it to become the norm, at least create an environment where everyone is used to doing it and knows how to make their home office as effective as their work one.  Where possible, measure your staff by results and not attendance.  Allow them to work from home when THEY need to (waiting for deliveries etc) so that when YOU need them to it’s already second nature.  You need to make sure they can do this after an incident so check your internet gateways and authentication mechanisms are resilient and won’t be affected by the same problem that sends your people home.  
At the same time as making sure that your existing staff can do the job from anywhere make sure that you can transfer processes to new staff, or outsource partners, quickly and efficiently if you have to by having effective process documentation.  You should be able to easily explain how you do things to new people so if you suddenly have to move a business process to a new location you can do so with the minimum of disruption.  Ideally create business processes across geographic boundaries so instead of having to ‘move’ a process you simply have to scale it up in one location until you can switch it back on in the other.
Of course this is all idealistic, and we know that in the real world there are many barriers to achieving this ideal of the human cloud.  But if you take it as an aspiration you can show your people that you are a dynamic, forward thinking, and effective organisation.  And that in itself is a great motivator.
Alan will be presenting at the forthcoming BCM World Conference and Exhibition,which takes  place 7th to 8th November 2012 at Olympia, London as part of Stream B.  Alan's session will be unveiling the mystery of cloud computing and looking at its impact on BCM and the opportunities that cloud affords business continuity.  Alan works as a Business Continuity Consultant at T-Systems Ltd.

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